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We are not in Poco anymore, Toto: Wizard of Oz, East Van version

Lorraine Graves   Dec-12-2018

The Hip Hop number by the East Van Panto chickens.


The East Van Panto begins with Justin Trudeau, in a hockey sweater, walking through the audience shaking hands with people in their seats on his way to the stage. (Throughout the play, Trudeau mentions often that he is a certified drama teacher.) Then asks, “You don’t like my pipeline?”

Turns out, Trudeau was really Bard on the Beach actor and Young Shakespearians teacher, Kayvon Khoshkam. Trudeau is but one of the roles Khoshkam takes on in the East Van Panto. His closing number, spoiler alert, “Chip Wilson” does a brilliant song and dance turn, highlights Khoshkam’s musical theatre chops not always called on at Bard.

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The laughter, the music and the skewering of politicians of every stripe never stops. No one is safe from the humorous jabs and that’s par for the course with pantos, or pantomimes.

The roots of British Christmas pantomime run deep. A mix of mummers, a practice that goes back to at least the 1200s in England in which people who play standardized gender-bending roles in disguise, and the Commedia dell Arte of 16th century Italy though, there are records of ancient Greeks and Romans both holding performances in much the same style. It’s a blend of satire, words, music, traditional roles and very local humour. One tradition, that was common in even Shakespeare’s time, is gender-bending roles. That too continues to this day.

The venue is part of a Vancouver tradition. The York Theatre was built in 1913. After a long life under different names, it is now a well-used civic amenity.

Panto means audience participation, just as there was in the Bard’s time, with all in attendance booing the bad guy, cheering the good, cooing “ah” for the sweet moments and shouting out “Look behind you!” as the bad guy sneaks up. For example, when two people appear in Stephen Harper masks behind “Trudeau,” who recoils in horror as he says, “Oh no, he’s back.” Everyone comes in for jabs at the East Van Panto.

There’s nostalgic fun in the form of audience participation that brings back memories for everyone. At one point, we are encouraged to stand and do the Chicken Dance. It brought back memories of the Hardy grad stagette with Cathy Bray at the Sutherland Memorial Hall, fond remembrances.

Two other stand-outs are Bard alumni Craig Erickson and Metro Pantomime star of many seasons, Christine Quintana. Quintana will next appear at Richmond Gateway Theatre in The Yoga Play due to run Feb. 7 to 16, 2019 on the main stage.

Quintana plays Dorothy in this very Vancouver version of the Wizard of Oz that’s unlike any version you have ever seen or likely will ever see again. Quintana shows solid acting chops and a musical voice that masters every style from Stan Roger’s Northwest Passage with suitably Lower Mainland words substituted, to the Monkee’s Daydream Believer and finally, the Oz classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow, just a few songs after a number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Where the strong belting out of melodies is needed, Quintana soars, and where the sweet subtlety of “Rainbow” is in order, she delivers.

Early in the show, as the performers and orchestra gear up to sing “Rainbow” the most famous song from “The Wizard of Oz,” on barges Khoshkam as Trudeau. He stops the music and declares that by CTRC CanCon rules 64 per cent of all panto songs must be Canadian. So the music shifts gears to a Lower Mainland version of Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage.

Craig Erickson, is the cowardly BC Lion, in uniform and red mop wig, running from a gently tossed football. Then, there’s Craig Erickson as Rachel Notley, NDP premier of Alberta in a black “cowgirl” outfit, playing the villain. Every political stripe comes in for ridicule in this panto.

The straw man, Raugi Yu, points out the difference. He’s not made of straw. This is Vancouver, after all. So, he’s made of something green, recently legalized, and green.

How the cast find time to change costumes remains a mystery. The costumes continue the merriment and the satire, with the “Help me, I’m melting” scene handled particularly well.

Chorus member and Richmondite, Mallory James has won awards: the Phyllis Taylor Scholarship for Performing Arts by the Richmond Community Foundation, and the E.V. Young Award for Outstanding Performance by Theatre Under the Stars.

Yvan Morissette’s sets echoed a colourful, flowing East Van painting style we have come to know.

Amanda Testini’s choreography means everyone dances and dances well. The hip-hop chickens, some of whom were children, received enthusiastic applause in a sea of stellar dancing.

From the moments the musicians open the show, singing the credits, Barry Mirochnick and Veda Hille, who also arranged the music and wrote the crisply funny lyrics, until the show ends, the music is a vital part. Whether unobtrusive or blatantly progressing the story line, the music is a force majeure masterfully done.

The show, in which Poco substitutes for Kansas, accurately pokes fun at both the East Van ethos and yuppy Vancouver ethos, skewering many well-known truths and attitudes along the way with gentle humour.

The East Van Panto, written by Marcus Youssef, under the direction of Stephen Drover, is a rollicking time suitable for all ages. While there are some jokes only adults will get, in fact, it is the sound of children’s laughter that stays in my mind. Some parts of the show are a bit loud so children sensitive to noises might want to take hearing protection. Some pantos have very terrifying villains. Not so here. With Erickson’s Rachel Notley, you don’t have to worry about comforting a frightened child.

This is hilarious satire at its best. The Cultch’s Theatre Replacement (Vancouver) East Van Panto at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, offers 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows through Jan. 6. The shows run 2 hours with an intermission in the crowded lobby. (Best to order intermission treats before the show begins.) It means the show is done about 9:30 p.m. and, while there were a few tired little teddy bears after evening show I attended, it’s not too late a night for a treat. Dress is comfortable and casual.

The East Van Panto is a chance to bring back fond memories and to make brilliant new ones. Children will be singing and dancing numbers, like the Metro Vancouver version of “Let’s do the Time Warp again,” from Rocky Horror Picture Show, for months to come.

With 90 percent of seats sold, the producer says the last week of the run has the most available tickets. As it doesn’t have an overtly Christmassy theme, it might be a great way to enjoy family time in that long, last week before school starts in the New Year.

Click for tickets and information.


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